The office is not functioning. There is a real office in your head.
This is what I tell myself when I’m working from home. Many of you are familiar with the version I am talking about. Our circumstances may vary a lot, but the same thing is true: working from home is pretty awesome, but there is some secret part of us that wants the office. Why is this happening?
Everyone will have a different answer. You may be a social butterfly who misses face-time and the din of familiar voices. Maybe it’s the separation between work and home life that makes you appreciate it. If you are lucky, you can go to the office, but if not, we have to wonder if you are looking for a new job. You haven’t heard about the other multi-national dumpster fire yet, but we’re still in a Pandemic in 2022, and of course there’s this. Isn’t it time to prioritize work output over office attendance?
Few companies agree with me. After serving a minimum of 40 hours per week in the office, those who want to work remotely may only do it as a reward. Apple received an open letter with over 1000 signatures against them after trying to enforce three appearances a week.
The Office Is More Than Space
Why would companies want to keep people away from work? All of the real estate sitting empty is expensive and makes them look bad. It would make them look bad if they didn’t have a big physical presence. Well, maybe not bad, but less powerful, because attitudes about when and where work are still evolving.
Power is one reason I think. The office is where a caste system of executives, middle managers and underlings can be acted out. It is a natural extension of school, which we all got up for in the morning and suffered through each day until we could leave and do what we wanted for a while before dinner and homework.
The Grass Is Greener When the Sunlight Hits It
After graduating from electronics trade school, I worked in an office for almost 20 years. I started out in the noc where I worked two twelves over the weekend once a month. For a telecommunications company, the people who work at the office are the people who have seen the place at all hours. These are the people who work on Christmas morning and fill the hours of the afternoon watching Die Hard on the big screen. Shift work is interesting because you can theoretically get stuff done during the day if you work second or third shift, but you’re also trying to sleep while the world is awake, and it can really screw you up.
Everything changed when I moved out to the engineering department. I had become a regular office worker. I had a cube with a name plate, instead of getting my binder out of a breadbox-sized locker in the tiny break room, and sitting at a long console of computers and phones. I owned my phone. A box of tissues, an accordion-style pad of sticky notes, and a chair that would only need to be adjusted once are all in my possession. I was across the aisle from a cube with a window instead of working in a cave because of the glow of the monitors, amber terminals and surveillance screens.
I thought that would change the way I felt about work. We Americans do too much of it in the name of constant growth and this side hustle culture out there can turn our relaxing hobbies into entrepreneurial nightmares. Since the office tends to be inter-generational, there are many rules that are hard to understand. It holds a special place in my heart because I grew up in it.
Work Is A Four-Letter Word
It was my previous job. I started working full-time at Hackaday at the end of 2019. Talk about the differences. Even though I was working and someone was paying me, I would still be using a computer all day. Suddenly, I went from toiling under a cold draft and fluorescent lights with my back to the door of a cubicle to working anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted, and in whatever clothes I wanted. It was all too freeing, and the Monday to Friday I had been pulling all my life suddenly looked like a pile of material that I would have to build myself into a shelter of sanity.
Most days, I just plain don’t want to do what I’m supposed to be doing at any given time (thanks, ADHD!), but I recognize that I; thrive within a structure. Unfortunately, this works best when that structure is imposed by someone else.
The whole structure of the office is what I miss the most. Maybe you have time to get a latte. You see familiar faces and hear stories that distract you from your own life. You work for a few hours, secure in the fact that you and everyone around you are working towards a common goal. Depending on the day, you can either eat at a fast food place, the break room or your car, or you can go to the restroom on another floor and cry. After a while, we get excited to go home to our things that have been sitting alone for nine hours, give or take.
It can be like one of those days where you can’t tell when it’s 10AM or 4PM. The aspect of going to the office that I miss is being somewhere else. The scenery changes allow the workplace to be an emotional scapegoat. Everyone hates the office. What are you going to do when you work from home? It is difficult to dislike your home when you have all the power to make it your own. For me, this means that my office can be an endless source of distraction if I don’t let it. Most of the objects have a story behind them and I believe it feeds my creativity to have them around.
I don’t think I can go out to work at this point, at least not at a computer-based job Between the loud, funny keyboard, the foot pedals, the chair, and the ideal desk height of 21′′, I am too set in my ergonomics. For someone who thought they’d never computer again due to repetitive stress injury, I’m doing well.
My work is completely different. I need to think in my engineering job, but what I do now has been described as sitting down and bleeding from the forehead by another writer. At least here at home, no one is going to come up behind me and start talking or call me out from over the wall. Cat-based interruptions are the most frequent ones for me. I can wear what I want, change if I need to, and not have shoes on. I’m pretty happy working from home and I bet I’m not alone.